Young Catalan nabs her 10th world kitesurfing championship

Gisela Pulido, 21, made the Guinness Book of World Records when she first won at age 10

Antonio Nieto Moreno
Gisela Pulido at the Fuerteventura event this year.
Gisela Pulido at the Fuerteventura event this year.S. Romantsova

A young woman from Catalonia has won her 10th Kitesurf World Championship in the freestyle category.

Virgin, which organizes the championship, announced the 2015 winners on Tuesday.

Gisela Pulido is already in the Guinness Book of World Records for becoming the youngest champion ever when she won her first competition at age 10.

The Spaniard is a highly competitive individual whom her own friends call “Sergeant Pulido”

The victory ends two dry seasons for the 21-year-old from Premià de Mar, in Catalonia, who beat out her arch-rival Karolina Winkowska of Poland. Out of five events held throughout the year that count toward the title, she made the podium every time, coming in first at the last competition in St. Peter-Ording (Germany).

Pulido has been training with Spain’s national gymnastics coach, Fernando Síscar, at Madrid’s Centro de Alto Rendimiento, a high-tech sports training center for elite athletes. For several weeks, she received training in artistic gymnastics, which included eight hours of workouts a day.

“I have never been so physically fit as I am this season,” she explains. “Gymnasts make the jumps using their own strength, they don’t have a comet to help them.”

Gisela Pulido during a competition.
Gisela Pulido during a competition.Toby Bromwich

The youngest champion

When Pulido set a world record by winning her first championship at age 10, kitesurfing was still a sport in its infancy. Their stories run parallel to each other.

In that time, her body has become much more professionalized, as has the discipline.

“These days, it would be impossible for a 10-year-old to compete in a world championship,” she notes, adding that the maneuvers are more complex now, and demand better training.

“I had the good fortune of getting started at a good moment, when kitesurfing was not very evolved, and I was also lucky to have skills and talent,” she explains inside the Diagnostics and Training Center (DTC), where Red Bull physically evaluates the athletes that it sponsors.

This center is located inside a former steel factory in Thalgau, around 20 kilometers from the Austrian city of Salzburg. A brook runs beside the two buildings, which are connected by an underground tunnel.

The place looks like a secret base, rather than a key element in the drinks company’s marketing strategy, which the brand invests a lot of money on.

The DTC tests athletes’ mental abilities as well as their physical ones. Gisela, the tests show, is a perfectionist who is good at making decisions, is more reflexive than impulsive, and has a low tolerance for frustration.

The Spaniard is also a highly competitive individual, whom her own friends call “Sergeant Pulido.”

When she won the first time, she says that her rivals got together to prevent her from competing again the following year. They claimed it was dangerous for such a young child to share the competition space with adult rivals.

“They voted to set an age limit of 14 years,” she recalls. But organizers and sponsors decided that the vote would have no effect, and Gisela was allowed to compete again.

That year, her family closed down their textile business in Premià, and Pulido moved with her father, a tailor, down south to Tarifa, the Spanish mecca of kitesurf. Since then, he has become her trainer as well. Thus began a nomadic life in search of propitious winds that has taken them all over the world.

English version by Susana Urra.

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